Entering the house Rush let the door slam shut behind him. Dropping his duffel bag on the floor he stomped into the kitchen. Opening the fridge he reached for a Gatorade. Twisting the cap off he guzzled the cool contents in front of the open fridge door. The cool air as it wafted from the refrigerator refreshing his overheated sweaty skin.
“Hey” the calm low voice of his dad brought him back to reality “close the door.”
“Sorry” he mumbled kicking the door shut with his foot. Turning he gave his dad a sheepish grin.
“How was practice” Britland asked looking up at the gangling form of his teenage son. It was hard to imagine this was the same boy who had begged them to grow bigger. Rush was already four inches taller than his 5’10”.
His bony shoulders rose and fell. “It was alright I guess.”
“Anything you want to talk about” Britland asked sensing that something was wrong. Before Rush could respond Felix, his best and oldest friend came into the kitchen.
“Well if it isn’t the basketball star” Felix said by way of greeting not noticing how his words made the boy squirm. “With someone like you on the team the others just have to get the ball to you to win the game.”
Ducking his head in a failed attempt to hide his flaming cheeks Rush mumbled “yeah I guess.” He set his empty bottle on the counter “I’m going to shower.
“You should tell the others hi first” Felix called after him “they’re excited to see you especially Adalynn.”
“I will once I’ve showered” he said walking away.
“Didn’t you teach him any manners” Felix demanded confronting his old friend.
“Of course I did” Britland said picking up the empty bottle to toss in the recycle bin. “He just didn’t like your overt attempt of setting him up with your daughter. It’ll never happen if you keep shoving it in his face.” As he spoke he went to get the discarded duffel bag from the entryway.
“Maybe I don’t want him for my Ada. I don’t want her having to clean up after him.”
“So says the guy who had a butler and a maid to clean up after him” Britland shook his head at him laughing softly.
“You should take my example as a warning then. He’ll never learn responsibility if you do everything for him” Felix insisted.
Britland stared at him for a moment before saying “I think I know my son. He’ll never turn into you.”
“You make it sound like a bad thing” Felix laughed clapping a hand across his friend’s back. “Believe me Rush is going to have plenty of opportunities being the basketball star. Every girl or guy is going to want to be with him. That’s a lot of pressure. It might even go to his head.”
Britland wanted to say it wouldn’t happen to his son. Ego had a funny way of distorting reality and Rush had been acting differently lately. Giving Felix a tight-lipped smile he mumbled “I guess we’ll see. I sincerely doubt Rush will let a game go to his head.”
“I thought you were getting me a drink” Crystal said coming into the kitchen.
“I was. I mean I am” Felix assured her “I got a little distracted giving Britland some parenting advise.”
“Oh” her eyebrows rose.
“Yeah” shrugging he grinned ruefully “I don’t think he liked what I had to say though.”
“I certainly hope not” Carson said coming in to join them. “Britland is probably the best parent here.”
“Hey I resent that” Felix grunted. “What was that for” he asked glaring at his wife.
“A reminder of your promise” she said giving him a stern look.
“I remember” he mumbled rubbing his side. “I was behaving.”
“No you weren’t” she said taking her drink and going to sit down.
“Crystal” Felix pleaded following her leaving Britland and Carson alone.
“What was that all about” Carson asked putting an arm around the blonde.
“I’m not sure” he smiled up at him “If I had to guess. I think Felix promised to be nice.”
Chuckling softly “I guess Crystal didn’t think he was” He gave Britland a peck on the cheek “come on honey we better join our guests.”
“Carson” Britland grabbed his hand before he could take more than a step. “Don’t go in there with the intent of antagonizing him.”
“Would I do that” he asked his tone serious but his lips twitching at the corners.
“Yes you would” he said seeing the mischief sparkling in Carson’s eyes and knew the evening was going to be interesting.
Sighing with relief Rush closed the bathroom door securely behind him. Turning the lock he pulled his shirt over his head. Grimacing as his eyes caught sight of the black and blue marks along his rib cage and back. “Some basketball star” he mumbled stripping out of his gym shorts. More bruises covered his skin around his thighs and hips.
When he agreed to play for the team he had no idea how painful it would be. The bruises were the result of the teams retaliation of the coaches unwarranted praise of his abilities. Letting the water run over his aching body, hissing as it stung his bruises. He liked playing basketball. Thought it would be fun playing on the team. Had excelled at it. Seeing the pride in his parents eyes as they cheered him on during the games. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint them.
The water sprayed over his head as he tried to silence his thoughts. He could handle the jeers and snide remarks the others on the team made about him. They were spoken just loud enough for him to hear and the coach to ignore. The petty jealousy he could handle. It was the constant physical abuse on the court as they would throw the ball at him when he least expected it or knocking him off his feet as they charged him too aggressively to take the ball from him. The blind eye the coach had for their actions only fueled their aggression.
Quitting seemed to be his only option. He’d thrown it out there in front of the coach who only guilting him into staying. Telling him not to let the team down right before the championship game. Mostly he didn’t want to disappoint his dads. They took such pride in his playing. My son the basketball star. He’d heard that a hundred times.
Drying himself off he wiped the mist from the mirror. Gazing at his reflection he grumbled accusingly at it “coward.” Mist once again obscured his image emphasizing the feeling that he was in a no win situation. Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
Hastily he threw on some clothes hoping Beckett and Adalynn would offer a welcome distraction from his turbulent thoughts. If nothing else Beckett might give him an excuse to work out his aggression. The guy never realized when he stopped being amusing and became irritating. Walking from the bathroom he heard the chatter of the adults in the living room having what sounded like a serious discussion. Ignoring them he dropped his things in his room. Smiling as he realized someone had brought his duffel bag into his room. A gentle rebuke from his mild-mannered dad no doubt. He’d remember next time not to leave it in the entryway.
Knocking on Bristol’s door he waited a moment before letting himself in. He sucked in a breath of air before exploding. “Dude that’s my sister.”
“And your point is” Beckett demanded draping a casual arm around Bristol’s shoulders.
“Get your hands off her” he demanded taking a menacing step forward.
“Don’t you think that’s up to her” Beckett smirked confidently up at the older boy.
“Where’s Adalynn” Rush asked abruptly changing the subject.
“She went to get drinks” Bristol explained sounding shy and a little guilty.
“I bet you put her up to it” Rush glared at the other boy.
“It’s just a kiss” Beckett replied nonchalantly “there’s nothing wrong with kissing.”
Bristol frowned squirming out from beneath his arms. “I thought you liked me.”
“I do babe” he leaned in close puckering his lips as if getting ready to kiss her.
“Eew dude not in front of me” Rush moaned.
“Then leave so it won’t be in front of you” he suggested his eyes never leaving Bristol’s lips.
Bristol seemed to be mesmerized by the nearness of the boys lips so close to hers as her head tilted to the side. She wanted this, didn’t she? She tried to ignore all the conflicting thoughts shouting at her. All the books she had read said the first kiss was supposed to be special, magical. At this moment with her heart pounding and her brother glaring at her with disapproval it was anything but the moment she imagined it would be. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea” she mumbled sliding from the couch in time for Beckett to smash his face into the cushions.
“Hey what gives” he cried face a dark crimson. “It’s not funny” he raged at Rush who was doubled over laughing.
“What’s going in here” Adalynn asked upon opening the door with an armful of soda’s.
“Your brother was trying to kiss my sister” Rush gulped for air laughing harder.
“You idiot” she said her voice taking on a scolding tone. “She’s just a kid.”
“I’m fourteen” Bristol hugged her arms around herself “I’m not a kid. I’m a young woman.” She blinked as everyone burst into giggles at her proclamation. “Get out all of you” she screamed flopping onto her bed burying her face into the pillow.
“Look what you did” Beckett glared at Rush as if he too hadn’t been laughing along with the others.
“Me? What about you” Rush glared back at the boy “you’re the one trying to kiss a little girl.”
“She’s not a little girl anymore” Beckett objected not seeing how contradictory his actions were.
“Just because she’s gotten boobs doesn’t make her a woman” Adalynn smacked her brother upside his head. “You should have known better.”
“You’re just jealous” Beckett grumbled crossing his arms.
“Dude so not cool” Rush scowled at him before going over to comfort Adalynn. She moved easily into his arms, crying softly.
“I’m watching you. No monkey business” Beckett fumed.
“Really” Rush asked looking surprised that Beckett would even think that he would take advantage of the situation like that.
“Hands north of the equator” Beckett ordered protectively.
“I’m not a pervert” Rush grumbled “unlike someone I know.”
“Whatever” Beckett mumbled shoving his hands in his pockets staring at the floor.
Once Beckett and Adalynn left with their parents it was time for their weekend movie marathon. Bristol turned the lights down low while Rush popped the popcorn. When everything was ready they began watching the first movie only the sounds of their munching breaking the silence. Bristol giggled turning to her brother who was doing the same. Neither one needed to be told what the rhythmic tapping coming from their parents room was.
“It’s amazing we don’t have more little brothers or sisters running around” Rush said with a conspiratorial grin.
“I know right” she laughed with him. “When I was little I used to think a monster was trapped inside the wall. The tapping was the monster trying to escape.”
Rush’s eyes turned towards the movie, a teen boy was screaming while attempting to hide from his would be murderer. “Don’t you think it’s kind of nice knowing our parents still love each other as much as they do?” he asked keeping his tone low as if he were afraid someone might overhear him.
“Yeah I guess” she shrugged “I never thought too much about it.”
Nodding Rush knew she was like most kids taking their parents for granted. “Maybe you should think about it” he suggested “you’re not a little kid anymore.” He fell silent images of the movie passing in an unseen blur. “Did you really want Beckett to kiss you?”
“Yes” she said her chin jutting out defiantly. Sighing she relaxed “at least I thought I did.” She pulled her knees into her chest “when the moment came and his lips were puckered up and ready it suddenly didn’t feel right. I don’t know, maybe I’m not as grown up as I thought.”
He gave her a gentle nudge “I hope when the time is right that your fist kiss will be with someone you really like.”
“I like Beckett” she cried almost defensively.
“Does he like you” he asked.
“Well I … don’t know.”
“I hope the next time you’re about to kiss some guy that you do know” Rush said “you deserve the moment to be special.”
“How old were you when you had your first kiss” she asked turning to watch him instead of the movie.
Keeping his eyes on the TV he watched a young blond girl go screaming to her death. “Sixteen” he whispered.
She gave him a curious look like she suspected there was more if she only knew the right questions to ask. “What was it like?
His fingers traced his lips. His eyes had a dreamy unfocused quality to them as he said “it was good. Unexpected but good.”
Raising an eyebrow she asked “were you in love?”
A sad almost melancholy sigh escaped him. “I thought I was” he reached for the popcorn bowl. Looking up he accused “you ate it all.”
“It wasn’t me” she giggled as she munched on the last of the popcorn. “Want me to make some more?”
“You better” he threw a few kernels at her that had fallen onto the seat cushions.
A few minutes later Bristol plopped down beside him with a bowlful of freshly popped corn. “Are you going to tell me who the mystery guy was?”
“What makes you think it was a guy” he asked his lips twitching at the corners.
“Girl then” she pushed his shoulder “whatever.”
They both managed to remain silent to the end of the movie. “What’s next” she asked as he got up to change movies. “This would be so much better if we had Simflix.”
“Yeah it would but suck it up” he grimaced at the next movie as he picked up the case. A bloody chainsaw was on the front cover.
“I bet it was Missy” she said suddenly “you remember the girl who chased all the boys at recess….”
“How can I forget” he moaned.
“What’s the problem” she asked “it’s not like she ever caught anyone.” She gasped as he averted his eyes and his hands shook putting the movie into the blue ray. “OMG she did catch someone didn’t she? You?” Her laughter filled the room “how did I not know this?”
Glaring at her he slumped onto the couch “can we not talk about this?”
“Why are you so upset” she asked “it happened years ago. I bet no one even remembers.”
“Yeah right” he grunted wishing that were true. Unfortunately Missy’s little brother was on the basketball team and made sure everyone knew what Missy did all those years ago.
“Awe” Britland put a hand out touching Carson’s arm “isn’t that adorable?”
Grunting Carson smiled over at him “don’t you think they’re getting too old for this?”
“For what? Staying up late and passing out on the couch.” Britland shrugged “not really. I’d rather have them here than out partying somewhere.”
“I almost wish Rush was out partying” Carson said following Britland into the kitchen “at least then he’d have some friends.”
“He has us, his sister and Beckett and Adalynn.”
“Yeah I guess. They don’t live around here though” Carson chewed on his bottom lip. “I hoped when he got on the basketball team he’d make some friends.”
Britland glanced over at his husband a worried frown forming. “I don’t think Rush is hurting for friends and I have a feeling he’s not that happy being on the team.”
“Yeah you’re probably right” he sighed “he has so much talent though.”
“I think he likes the game. He just doesn’t have the competitive spirit.” Britland gave Carson a reassuring smile “I think he just prefers to play for fun without the pressure of having to be the best and winning.”
“You’re right that’s not him” he leaned against the counter. “I hoped he’d have an easier time in school than we did.”
“Dad” they both looked up startled by the sound of their son’s voice.
“What is it son” Britland asked recovering first.
“I heard you talking about me” he looked towards the floor to avoid seeing the disappointment in his parents eyes. Overhearing them discussing the basketball team had encouraged him to speak up. Taking a deep breath he asked “would you be terribly disappointed if I quit?”
“Is that what you want” Britland asked.
“Yes but I’ll play if you want me to” Rush added rapidly. “I know it cost a lot for me to play and you’d be out all that money if I quit.”
“Rush” Carson cut him off “the only thing that matters is your happiness. If you don’t want to play don’t feel obligated to continue because you think that’s what we want.” He glanced over at Britland than back to their son “we love you. We’re proud of you no matter what you do.”
“Really” his voice sounded relieved “I was so afraid you’d be disappointed in me.”
“In you never” Britland assured him. “Your dad and I will always be your biggest fans regardless of what you do.”
“What your father said” Carson said with a smile “but I need to know if this decision is being prompted because you’re being bullied by the team.” Over the years Rush had been a favorite victim of the meaner bigger kids at school. “If you are you need to tell us so we can help.”
“Um” he glanced into the living room where he could see Bristol stretching and yawning as she stirred to life. “No. I mean the guys are jealous of all the attention I’ve been getting…”
“What about the coach” Britland inquired “doesn’t he do anything about it?”
“He’s part of the problem, telling everyone we have no hope of winning if I don’t play.” He tried to have a nonchalant attitude “he’s going to be furious when I tell him.”
“You can’t play a game just because the coach wants you to” Britland said. “It’s your decision and we’ll back you no matter what.”
“If you need to give the coach a reason, tell him we made you quit.” Carson suggested “tell him you need to concentrate on your studies.”
“Thanks Dad” the relief in his voice was all the confirmation they needed that he wasn’t telling them everything. “I really appreciate this.”
“Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes” Britland said “why don’t you go and get dressed.”
“Love you guys” Rush smiled his thanks to them before walking away.
When they were alone Carson came up behind Britland wrapping his arms around him. “You think there’s more to his decision to quit don’t you?”
“I think we gave him a way out of a bad situation” Britland leaned into his husband “he’ll be ok.”
“Yeah I think you’re right” Carson kissed his cheek “I wish I knew exactly what was going on though.”
“Give him time” Britland advised. “Rush will tell us when he’s ready. I’m willing to let him solve his own problems. If he needs help he’ll tell us.”
“And we’ll be here when he does” Carson added.
“Always” Britland agreed.